Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Short-listed for the Booker Prize, Canadian Edugyan's second novel jumps between Berlin and Paris in 1939-40 and Berlin in 1992 to tell the story of a German American jazz band and its star trumpeter, Hieronymous Falk. Having hit it big during the Weimar era, the band a mixture of expat African Americans and German jazz fanatics, including Falk, who is both black and a German (a mischling, or crossbreed, in the eyes of the Nazis) now faces tough and increasingly dangerous times in the wake of Hitler's ban against degenerate music. Drummer Chip Jones and bassist Sid Griffiths, both African Americans, escape to Paris, but Falk is arrrested in Berlin. Cut to 1992: the discovery of the band's unreleased last recording, Half-Blood Blues, a jazz version of the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi party anthem, has made a music legend of Falk, never heard from after the war and presumed dead, and has prompted a celebratory documentary, which will premier in Berlin. Edugyan tells this incredibly rich story of music, politics, and personal betrayal both subtly and dramatically, unveiling the mystery of what happened to Falk as she exposes the tensions between the band members and the secret that has been gnawing at one of them for half a century. Like Paule Marshall's The Fisher King (2000), which tells a similar story of an expat jazzman and his troubled legacy, Edugyan's novel mixes palpable period atmosphere with an interpersonal drama of great emotional depth. That narrow moment in time when the freewheeling decadence of Weimar Germany gave way to jackbooted tyranny has been the subject of much fine fiction, but Edugyan is the first to overlay it with jazz history. It makes a sublime marriage.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Edugyan's second novel, shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, pays a mournful tribute to the Hot-Time Swingers, a once-legendary six-piece German-American multiracial jazz ensemble gigging in Berlin on the eve of WWII. When the pianist is picked up by the Gestapo, the remaining members flee to Paris with forged passports to meet Louis Armstrong in hopes of cutting a record. After the German occupation of Paris, "the Boots" arrest Hieronymous ("Hiero") Falk, the band's 20-year-old-genius Afro-German trumpet player, leaving the band with one half-finished record, one shattered love affair, and one too many secrets. The story of the band's demise and partial resurrection, as seen through the eyes of Sid Griffiths-the upright bass player-unfolds in richly scripted vignettes alternating between 1939/1940 (when Hiero disappears) and 1992 (when Sid and Chip Jones, the percussionist, revisit Berlin for a Hieronymous Falk festival and walk down memory lane). By the book's end, readers will have pieced together most of the truth behind Sid's biased recounting of events, but nothing will prepare them for the disclosure of an ultimate betrayal. While the rarely explored subject adds to the book's allure, what stands out most is its cadenced narration and slangy dialogue, as conversations, both spoken and unspoken, snap, sizzle, and slide off the page. Sid's motivation can feel obscure, but his lessons learned are hard-won all the same. Agent: Anne McDermid, Anne McDermid Associates. (Feb. 28) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Edugyan (The Second Life of Samuel Tyne) has crafted a fictional account of a German American jazz band-the Hot-Time Swingers-that the Nazis banned from performing because of its "degenerate" music. The story flashes forward and backward between 1939 and 1992, when one of its members, the half-black Hieronymus Falk, though absent, is being honored in Berlin by a documentary. Two former black band members, Chip and Sid, attend the ceremonies, at which time we learn of a dark secret involving Falk's imprisonment in Mauthausen concentration camp. The novel follows band members as they escape from Hitler's Germany to France but then must face the Wehrmacht as it invades Paris. The great Louis Armstrong makes a convincing cameo appearance. Verdict A Man Booker finalist, Edugyan's tour de force effectively captures the speech patterns of band members and thereby gets into the minds of her characters to relate their story with convincing realism. Her descriptions of Nazi harassment and the invading German army are truly terrifying. The only drawback, and it may be a big one, is that the entire book is written in nonstandard English, which can make for hard reading. Still, literate readers with an interest in the era and particularly the jazz scene will especially enjoy this finely wrought work.-Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.